Saying Goodbye To The Kojo Nnamdi Show
On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The impeachment trial will start February 9, with Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin serving as the House’s lead impeachment manager. With an acquittal likely, Democrats are considering alternatives, like a censure resolution. Washington Post congressional reporter Mike DeBonis gives us the latest.
Then, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elirch joins us to talk about the vaccine rollout, which has been mired in logistical and equity issues. And we’ll get his take on Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s push to reopen schools and the latest news with the Capital Beltway expansion.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood he's our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Marc Elrich, he's the county Executive in Montgomery County Maryland, but joining us now is Mike DeBonis, he's a Congressional reporter for the Washington Post. Mike DeBonis, welcome.
MIKE DEBONISKojo, thank you so much for having me back. I'm just delighted to be with you guys today.
NNAMDIGood to talk to you again, even as we speak, Tom Sherwood the March for Life is taking place. You seem to have it under surveillance. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, I'm watching the cable channel EWTN, I've never heard of it before and right now it's a lot of people mainly talking. They haven't shown any one on the hill. Of course, the 48th Annual March for Life is a virtual event this year. Although they were expecting some people to show up on the Capitol, some years it's a couple hundred thousand people have come. And I was just thinking--we'll get to this later about the potential fence around the Capitol. What would a fence that shut off the entire Capitol grounds to the public do to people like the March for Life, and others who want to protest there.
SHERWOODSo the March for Life is ongoing, but it's mainly at this point a virtual show on cable TV.
NNAMDIThe bonus you probably noted, Sherwood hasn't slept since the whole fence thing came up, but are you covering this are you watching this March for Life also?
DEBONISI'm not watching the March for Life feed as Tom is. I do know that there is -- it's obviously every year it's a major event on Capitol Hill. Lots and lots of pro-life activists come to Capitol Hill. They want to talk to their elected representatives. They go into the office buildings. They set up meetings. It's a huge part of democracy and the democratic process. And I think Tom is right to be concerned about if there's a fence, what else -- what other sort of restrictions come with that?
NNAMDIWell, heck we're there. So let's go there. Tom Sherwood, what are your concerns?
SHERWOODOh, I don't have any concerns. I was at first, you know, I might get a bonus of course in the form of loose lips reporter and covered city politics and other matters, but I would like to ask him, just on January the 6th. I went up on the east side of the Capitol to observe firsthand the demonstration and some of the rioting. I did not go inside. Just you, Mike, your personal story were you there on January the 6th, and what did you see briefly?
DEBONISSo I was not there. I the -- plan was is that I was ...
SHERWOODWell, let's get another guest then. (laugh)
DEBONISYeah. The plan was I was supposed to work the wait shift. I was going to come in around dinner time. And, you know, we were expecting this electoral count to go over night. So I was sitting at home watching it all happen on TV, like everybody else. But it was -- I will just say it was as harrowing knowing those hallways, knowing -- seeing it unfold from afar was -- I'm not going to say it was just as traumatic because it wasn't -- but it was traumatic. And I know other people who weren't there that day or other denizens of the Capitol who also suffered some stress afterwards just thinking about not only what happened, but what could have happened.
DEBONISAnd that's been something that's been rolling through everyone's minds since then.
SHERWOODAs Kojo -- can we mention the fence first and the Capitol Hill Police temporary chief ...
SHERWOOD... publicly raised the idea of fencing off the entire area and that's been some significant push back from those who don't want that to happen. You briefly mentioned it. But can you get -- this was proposed another -- a decade or so ago and it was shot down, saying people should be able to come to the Capitol. Do you have any sense that this is going to in fact happen this time, a fence?
DEBONISI think it's too early to tell. You're right, Tom, that previous sergeants at arms, Capitol police officials have floated, you know, there needs to be a hard perimeter, some have said you need to shut down Constitution Avenue, Independence Avenue and really make it a, you know, hardened campus. And those suggestions have been pretty roundly dismissed in the past. I mean, the politicians, the members of Congress, who call the shots on Capitol Hill really do -- members of those parties believe that this is the people's house. This is where regular Americans should be able to go not only take a tour, but also go and lobby their Congress people go to their offices, get meetings and have that happen with as little friction as possible.
DEBONISAnd you know that attitude has survived even through 9-11, even through Oklahoma City all of these sort of signal occurrences that have led to lock downs in other parts of the city. Capitol Hill has not fallen. We will see what happens now.
NNAMDIAnd this has all resulted in of course the House impeaching the President--or Former President Trump, making him the only president to be impeached twice. The trial is now set to begin on February 9th. Congressmen Jamie Raskin of Maryland is the lead impeachment manager for the house. But Mike DeBonis what is your sense about what's going to happen in the Senate. We all know that Jamie Raskin is a terrific lawyer and he's accompanied by other members of Congress who are lawyers, but what's going to happen in the Senate? Two thirds of the Senate would need to vote to convict President Trump. What's your sense of what's going to happen, Mike?
DEBONISSo we got a pretty good hint on Tuesday, when -- since we swore in the senators for trial and that had barely happened when Senator Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican got up and he made a constitutional objection, a point of order, saying, you know, it's unconstitutional to even think about trying an ex-president for impeachment. I think that, basically, what he was saying is I don't think this should go forward on those grounds. And he forced the vote on that. The vote was 55/45, 45 of 50 Republicans backed Rand Paul and backed President Trump on this very basic threshold question of is this trial even constitutional.
DEBONISPeople like us, reporters view that and say if you voted today to say that this trial isn't even constitutional how do you in two, three, four weeks come back and vote for a conviction of President Trump on something that you think is unconstitutional.
DEBONISAnd it's not going to happen. And that's why we took that vote as a test vote, as a proxy for, you know, how this is going to go. They are at least twelve votes short of what they need to get a conviction.
SHERWOODAnd the--we know that the Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, has proposed a censor of the Former President as a rule. But I want to go back to Jamie Raskin, the congressman from Maryland, is only in his third term, he's fairly new on to Capitol Hill, in the way that it works by seniority. But yet he is in this extraordinary role of leading the impeachment team from the house to present the case. And of course he also had a terrible personal blow, in December, when his 25 year-old son, Tommy, committed suicide. He has focused on this like a laser beam. How is it that Jamie Raskin, even though he is a constitutional scholar from American University, how is it that he got such a lead role and what do you see for him going forward?
DEBONISYeah, so, Tom, that's a great observation. He is fairly junior in the House ranks, but anybody who knows Jamie Raskin knows that he's a guy of boundless energy. He makes an impression on people. He's incredibly smart, and he is incredibly nice about it. He has this sort of happy warrior vibe that is very infectious, and it's very -- he's a very engaging person to talk to. And I think that he's made an impression in his short time in Congress as somebody who's both brilliant and engaging and is able to sort of carry an argument as well as anybody in the House Democratic Caucus. He was elected to a leadership position in his second term, so he was at the table with Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leaders in the last Congress, as they were discussing the impeachment of President Trump.
DEBONISHe's on the House Judiciary Committee. I think that he's pretty widely respected as somebody -- a former constitutional law professor who knows the issues, who knows the constitutional basis for impeachment. I think that it wasn't a huge surprise to see him taking a very prominent role in this, and what was a huge surprise, obviously, as you mentioned, is this is happening just weeks after this devastating personal tragedy that just not only I'm sure left Congressman Raskin reeling, but just people around him, knowing him and knowing his family.
DEBONISI think there's just been a lot of bipartisan concern on his behalf. But he really has seemed to have thrown himself into it. Obviously, just days after this, the riot happens, and he is there, on the floor, that night, arguing for the certification of the election and the upholding of the Constitution. It was a pretty -- no matter what your politics were on this, it was a pretty inspiring moment.
SHERWOODLet me just say we did -- I know the producers did ask Congressman Raskin if he would be on our show today to discuss what he's doing, and he begged off, saying that he's so busy with preparing the impeachment. That's why we settled for you. (laugh)
DEBONISUnderstood, and I can vouch that he's a lot scarcer than he usually is. He's obviously got a lot of work to do before the trial starts next week.
MR. KOJO NNAMDICan you tell us about the censure resolution that Senator Tim Kaine came up with? What would that do? We only have about a minute left, Mike.
DEBONISSure. So, Tim Kaine has said -- he looked at the vote Tuesday and said, listen, we're not gonna get a conviction. What else can we do to have some accountability for President Trump? He's drafting -- he's working with some of his Republican friends -- Susan Collins' name is attached to it, of Maine.
DEBONISBut there's sort of an issue here, which is that Tim Kaine is purporting to use this 14th Amendment language that would potentially bar Trump from office in the future. It's kind of an arcane constitutional provision. The problem he's gonna run into is if it's seen as just another way of doing impeachment, it's not gonna get any additional Republican support.
DEBONISThere's just also the feeling in the Republican caucus that the Democrats have made their choice. They've impeached him, and that's what we're gonna decide on. The ship has sailed on censure. So, it's not at all clear that that's really gonna emerge as a workable alternative, but Tim Kaine is giving it a try.
NNAMDII'm gonna ask Mike DeBonis, can you stick around for about another three minutes, because I need to talk D.C. statehood briefly with you. Can you?
NNAMDIOkay. In that case, we're gonna take a short break. When we come back, before we speak with county executive Marc Elrich of Montgomery County, just a few more minutes with Mike DeBonis, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We'll soon be talking with Marc Elrich, the county executive in Montgomery County. Right now, our resident analyst, Tom Sherwood, and I are talking with Mike DeBonis, who's a congressional reporter for "The Washington Post." Mike, the H.R. 51 in the House for D.C. statehood has over 200 cosponsors, and Senate Democrats reintroduced the statehood bill this week with a record 38 cosponsors, but what real chance does it have in the Senate? It'll sail through the House, of course.
DEBONISYeah, it's likely to get a vote in the House, it's likely to pass. In the Senate, it's tough. The fact is, as long as the filibuster exists in its current incarnation, where you need 60 votes to move legislation of consequence, you know, statehood is not going to move. There is a push, as you may be aware of, to get rid of the filibuster and use that, among other things, to make D.C. a state.
DEBONISBut there are a number of Democratic senators who are on the record opposed to changing the filibuster, eliminating it entirely, most prominently Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Christian Cinema of Arizona, I think there's a couple others that would have some issues with it that just simply make it a tough sell right now.
DEBONISBut I know that there's lots of activists out there working on it. And I will say this -- that this issue has moved up the sort of Democratic priority list in the last 12 years, from when President Obama was first in office and he was asked about it.
DEBONISHe said this was too divisive an issue. There is much more unity inside the Democratic ranks that D.C. statehood is a top-level issue to accomplish if they have the ability to do so in Congress.
DEBONISSo, you know, there has been a lot of progress.
SHERWOODYes, but it's just -- the concern is whether or not they would set aside the filibuster for this. There's talk about doing it for reconciliation on the big COVID relief bill and other matters. It just seems like a very big hurdle. I'm a personal D.C. resident, I'm frustrated as a person. But as a reporter, it's very hard to draw a line to success.
SHERWOODAnd I don't see anything happening with retrocession to Maryland. I'm getting lots of tweets today about people who still want to retrocede D.C. to Maryland. Maryland would have to approve that. That's more dead in the water than D.C. statehood. Would you agree?
DEBONISI would agree wholeheartedly. I think you're right that the filibuster wouldn't go for D.C. statehood, but there are other matters on the Democratic agenda where you could see there being a push to eliminate the filibuster. And then behind that, D.C. statehood could move forward, but listen, we're in a 50-50 Senate. There's no margin for error. You can't lose any votes, you need every Democrat on board. As long as Joe Manchin and Christian Cinema and some of these other purple-state Democrats are out there, it's tough.
DEBONISAnd you know, if you were in more of a 55-45 Senate, then you could see it a lot more clearly than you can now.
NNAMDIMarc Elrich (sic) -- he's a congressional reporter for "The Washington Post." Mike DeBonis -- Mike DeBonis (laugh) I was moving ahead of you, Mike. Mike DeBonis, always a pleasure.
DEBONISThank you, Kojo. And as a point of personal privilege, congratulations on your retirement. Well-deserved, and I'm sorry that Tom is roping you into keeping on doing "The Politics Hour" (unintelligible).
NNAMDIYou know how that goes. Thank you -- thanks a lot. Marc Elrich is the county executive in Montgomery County. He joins us now. Marc Elrich, thank you so much for joining us. Is the county executive on? Can you hear me, Mr. Elrich?
SHERWOODYes, he is.
MARC ELRICHI am. I don't know what happened.
ELRICHI got bounced for a moment.
NNAMDIWell, there are a bunch of people waiting to talk to you who have called already. Mr. County Executive, there's one word on everybody's mind right now -- vaccines. So, let's start there.
NNAMDIWho is eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine in Montgomery County, and how many people have received it so far?
ELRICHWow. So, eligible and in line are two very different things. I mean, the governor has made a very large swath of people eligible. On the other hand, he's told us that, you know, our priorities are pretty much the priorities that were laid out in the original guidelines, which is we were going through what's called group 1A, and that's like the front-facing workers, the hospital folks, the medical professionals, people who we actually need to stay healthy long enough to take care of us as we go through this.
ELRICHThe second group was 1B, which is the 75-plus-year-olds. We are finishing in the county 1A, and we are starting 1B and giving out vaccines, but all of that only applies to the county health department. There's a lot of other vaccine going to hospitals and to pharmacies and other providers, and they are scheduling people everywhere from 1A to 1C.
ELRICHAnd so there are two different systems going on. The fundamental problem is that -- well, I guess two fundamental problems. One is if the state wants us to get through the seniors, the 75-plus, if I only get 5,000 doses a week, it's gonna take me 14 weeks.
ELRICHIf the 18 to 20,000 doses that are coming to the county are directed -- if the state directs all of the providers to focus on the senior group, we would be finished with the senior group in about three and a half weeks or so, maybe a little bit less. Then we would turn to the 65-year-olds.
ELRICHBut there is a sequence, and the governor has said -- I talked to him personally -- that, you know, we're supposed to go through the different steps and complete them. The county hasn't been able to complete them, because the amount of doses that come to Montgomery County isn't adequate. Like I said, this last week, we got dropped to about 5500 doses for first doses.
ELRICHSo, it's complex. So when I met with the governor, one of the things we asked for is to have a uniform scheduling system. So that people couldn't go in and then register in the system and then select a Montgomery County health clinic site if they're 65 years old, and register there for a vaccine, because they're taking -- that would be taking away vaccines from people, who are 75 years old and older.
SHERWOODThat's -- well ...
ELRICHSo we've got a problem in the software.
SHERWOODLet me -- Mr. County Executive, thank you for showing us today. I was gonna ask you about that. You don't have the best relationship with the Republican Governor Hogan, and two weeks ago you were part of a statewide virtual rally with county and business and community leaders urging him to release more emergency rainy day funds money for a variety of reasons.
SHERWOODBut you also, as I understand it, had a Zoom meeting with Governor Hogan this week that you haven't put out a press release on. I think you were just referring to that meeting. Did you -- we'll get to 495 and 270 in a moment. But did you have a good conversation with him? What was the -- how would you characterize that conversation? Am I right that you did it this week?
ELRICHYeah. We had a really good conversation, and I think people don't understand -- and the governor and I both laughed about this -- there are things we disagree about, but you can disagree about things and not have a bad relationship. So, his ...
SHERWOODTell the governor that, with his leadership in Maryland House and Senate. He's pretty testy.
ELRICHSo look, you can -- you know, I don't care about testy, I look at how you work with people. So we've been able to work with the governor's staff on a bunch of our priorities, whether it was housing, whether it was some other transportation priorities we've had. We have not had a problem, despite the fact that he and I may disagree on some things.
ELRICHAnd that's one of the things that, you know, I've felt pretty comfortable with, and I think people get confused when you see both of us taking different positions. There's an assumption that you don't work together, and the fact is, we do work together. And so our conversation this week was very positive. When I raised the issue about the order in which vaccines are going, he actually said you all should probably be still in group 1A, because you have the largest 1A group in the county, if not the country, and those folks have to be vaccinated.
ELRICHIf you look at his directives and the health department directives, on the one hand you hear this kind of sweeping statement of everybody who's eligible. But if you look at the directives, the directives have said for weeks you have to prioritize the 75-year-old-plus group. So ...
SHERWOODOkay. Well, just (unintelligible) ...
ELRICH(overlapping) Yeah, I've worked my way through that.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) (unintelligible) part of the problem ...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That's part of the problem, because there's 1A, there's 1B ...
NNAMDIBut wait ...
SHERWOOD-- there's 1D, there's 1C. There's just so many things that confuse us.
SHERWOODDo you agree with the governor that schools should be open?
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well -- well -- well, allow me to interrupt, because we have to take a short break.
NNAMDII am glad the county executive had a very good conversation with the governor. We've been trying to have any kind of conversation with him for years, even a bad one, and can't get it. (laugh) So you might wanna point that out the next time. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Marc Elrich. He is the county executive in Montgomery County, Maryland. And, Tom Sherwood, we've been talking about vaccinations. Is it possible that Northern Virginia might be getting a vaccination supersite? Several members of Congress have written a letter to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking for that.
SHERWOODWell, this is part of President Biden's effort to get more vaccines out to more people, shots in the arm. And one of the proposals is to have these 100 community sites around the country, something like a big box superstore place where people could go and get vaccinations. I'm calling it Vaccinations 'R Us. And it would be a very good thing to do. Congressman Jerry Conley, Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton wrote a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, urging them to pick Northern Virginia as a place for this.
SHERWOODAgain, this is an effort to roll out the vaccines. You know, a year ago, there were all these problems with testing. It took several months to get testing organized. And no there're all these problems getting vaccines out to people, and this is an effort to do that. And I would suspect you'd want a community spot in Montgomery County or Prince George's County, too.
NNAMDII was about to ask Marc Elrich that. Would you like a supersite in Montgomery County?
ELRICHAt the point when there are enough vaccines to use a supersite, that would be nice. But right now, the state is only getting 70 to 75,000 vaccines a week. That is it. That's all. And they don't control it, because they are getting it from the federal allocation which they have no control over. The county winds up, for all of our providers, with a total of about 20,000 -- 18 to 20,000. That's not going to change for weeks.
ELRICHWe have no problem. My health department alone, through a variety of different sites, could put out 20, 25,000 vaccines a week, minimum, if we had the vaccines. And that doesn't even include our other partners, like the hospitals, like the work we're doing with Johns Hopkins and Holy Cross. So, I would just like to have the vaccines and then figure out (laugh) what's the best way to get them out. You can give me a supersite, but if I don't have vaccines, it doesn't make any difference right now.
NNAMDIA lot of people want to talk about this. By the way, have you yourself been vaccinated yet?
ELRICHNo. I've made a promise that I'm not going to get vaccinated until all of the people who would normally appear ahead of me in line have been vaccinated. So, I'm not a frontline worker who does healthcare, so I'm not going to get vaccinated in front of them. I'm not going to get vaccinated in front of 75-year-olds.
ELRICHI know how to stay safe. I don't go out without a mask, I don't go -- you know, into closed spaces with lots of people. Occasionally, I've been in a room with a couple of people, but I don't do anything to put myself at risk. So, I don't need the vaccine now. And there are people who are much more important in Montgomery County than me who need to get vaccinated. So, I'll wait.
NNAMDIHere now is Christian in Potomac, Maryland. Christian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTIANThank you so much, Kojo. Councilmember Elrich, Bullis schools have been open...
NNAMDI(overlapping) He's no longer a councilmember. He's the county executive these days.
CHRISTIANOh, I'm so sorry. County Executive Elrich, Bullis has been open for safe in-person learning on-campus since early September, and 28 out of 29 Montgomery County independent schools have been educating safely on campus since early October. These schools have over 3,000 employees working in person on these campuses, educating many thousands of Montgomery County students. Why are independent schoolteachers and staff not receiving equal consideration as the Montgomery County Public School staff with the vaccinations that you organized through Johns Hopkins?
ELRICHWe organize it through Hopkins, but we're following state guidelines. If the state tells us that everybody is in, then everybody will get scheduled. But that's not what the state is telling us. And I don't even do the scheduling at Johns Hopkins. They do their own scheduling, and it's one of the issues that, you know, that I've had concern with, is that the only people really following the governor's directives right now has been the county.
ELRICHI was on a call with other county executives yesterday, and we've got the same problem. We are trying to follow the governor's order of doing things. He has not required the other private providers to follow the same priorities in his order. It's a problem, but we're not setting the hospital -- we're not telling the hospital what do to. We can't. And they receive their vaccine from the state, not from Montgomery County.
NNAMDIHere now is an anonymous caller in Potomac who identifies as a public school teacher. Go ahead, please. You're on the air.
ANONYMOUSThank you so much. I am a public school teacher in the neighborhood, Montgomery County Elementary School. And I work with special ed services with students in kindergarten and first. So, it's a good thing that our kids are on the first kind of cohort to go back, because these are really the kids who do need the in-person education.
ANONYMOUSBut to piggyback on what the last caller said, the vaccine situation is abhorrent. MCPS claims to their teachers that they will be getting us vaccine. Some teachers received an invitation. It was supposed to be done in order of return to the building. I’m amongst the first who will return. I did not receive an invitation, so I emailed employee services and got this lovely response: "Not everyone will receive an invitation. The invitations have been sent. If you didn't get one, we suggest you get a vaccine through the county." So, I just really want to highlight how MCPS is not taking care of anybody.
ELRICH(laugh) Oh, God. Look, I'm only laughing, because if...
ANONYMOUSI mean, I was -- I know, because you have to laugh, because just the tone, the tenor is just a disrespect. I've been working for MCPS since the 1980s, and I have yet to feel respected as a teacher.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Here's County Executive Elrich.
ELRICHSo, look, we were told -- and I saw this communication, that the county had a list of which teachers were coming back first. And they are the ones who are supposed to be on the list to get vaccinated. So, I would -- you know, you could look at it as if you weren't on that list you, may not be coming back first. And everybody's not coming back. This is a smaller cohort of the entire workforce in the school system.
ELRICHAnd if you registered on the county site, you could register, but we're actually -- we're turning away people who aren't in the 75-plus group, because I've got to get my limited doses of vaccine out to the 75-year-olds. To, you know, put it into perspective, it would be 14 weeks, at 5,000 vaccines a week, for me to cover the 75-year-olds. That's not much of a priority, which is why we've asked the governor to direct everybody to vaccinate all the different groups in the order in which they're prioritized.
ELRICHSo, the teachers should come -- the ones going back to work first will come. How the governor decides to deal with private schools is something that, you know, we don't make a decision to who we're going to vaccinate or not except by what his guidelines are. So, we're working on it.
SHERWOODMr. Elrich, can I interrupt you?
SHERWOODCan I interrupt just on that? Just to be clear, public school teachers have priority over private school teachers, even though private schools are more heavily attended now?
ELRICHI would have to look at that, but it may be that that's the governor's priority in opening up the public schools, which, A, affect a lot more people, often include populations that are much higher risk than the private schools. We have high-density, low-income communities where those kids are going to be coming back to school. Those communities coincide with areas with the highest degree of COVID infection. You know, we've got a major racial equity problem in the virus. And this would allow us to feel safer about the teachers, who are going to be working those environments to make sure they're not as exposed.
SHERWOODAgain, the racial equity issue is true in virtually every jurisdiction in the country where there's racial diversity, there's not racial equality. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIYes. In fact, 20 percent of Montgomery County residents are black or African American, but they make up only 6 percent of pre-registrants for the vaccine. The Latino community following similar trends, so that is what the county executive was talking about. Tom Sherwood, you wanted to move on?
SHERWOODWell, I just wanted to ask about an environmental question. I know that the county passed an herbicide ban, which significantly affects how people can put herbicides on their lawns and other commercial spaces. But you also have done a major, like, 700-page report on environmental spaces. But you, as an environmentalist -- you call yourself one, and I think properly so -- you've opposed putting solar panels in the county's big agricultural reserve, which seems like a normal -- a natural place to put them. Why are you opposed to that?
ELRICHI'm not opposed to it. You know, I supported...
ELRICH...protecting productive soils, but I completely supported opening up the group 3 soils to this, which gets them more than 40,000 acres to put down the 1,800 acres that they think they might use for solar. I don't have a problem with that amount of solar going into the ag reserve, if it can be done right. You know, they argued that using conditional use would be terrible. We brought in somebody from the Hearing Examiner's Office, who does this, and says that...
ELRICH...you know, almost nothing goes to court. There's one case that wound up in court...
ELRICH...in years. So, I think it's going to happen, and I'm happy.
SHERWOODAll right. Let's move on, then. Then the critics may be overstated. Okay. Can we go to the 495?
NNAMDIWait, not yet. Not yet. Here's Zach, in Silver Spring. Zach, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZACHHi. I was just wondering, with every other place in the DMV open for indoor dining, if there was any chance of relooking at the numbers, as far as indoor dining goes, anytime soon? With a lot of people out of work and businesses closing, if that was a possibility.
NNAMDIMontgomery County, of course, is the only county in the state of Maryland that has not allowed indoor dining again. Mr. County Executive.
ELRICHYou know, if you listen to what Fauci said the other day, once again, he would not have us go into bars and restaurants right now. Our cases, right now, are multiples of what they were in the summer, and they're higher than they were when everything was shut down in the state. Our positivity rate is still more than twice as high as we've gotten it down to in the summer. We are - and when the governor talks about where counties are in terms of the virus, we are still in the red -- we're among the red counties, and red being a bad number, here, or a bad color, in this case.
ELRICHSo, we don't feel that it's the right thing to do. And if we open up more stuff, it's going to increase community spread. There is absolutely no way you can open up more things for people to do and not increase community spread. And if you trying to get kids back to school -- which is another thing that's largely being ignored by a lot of people -- you're supposed to be in a period of low transmission. Everybody, including Fauci, says kids should go back to school, but it's always caveated with the statement that you should have low rates of transmission.
ELRICHWe don't have low rates of transmission. And so, opening up more stuff guarantees that my rates of transmission are not going to go down as fast as they should, which makes it a more dangerous thing to do. You can't do everything and not expect this virus to continue to flourish. And we're so far away from getting vaccines to everybody. And it's nobody's fault except the former president. I mean, he had the opportunity to buy more, and he passed on buying it. Once he passed on buying it, that stuff got sold to someplace else.
ELRICHI don't blame the governor. I don't blame, you know, Biden, you know. And that horse has -- you know, the train has left the station. But we're not going to see enough vaccines to broadly vaccinate the population at least for a few months. And I've told people we're 11 months into this. It's like we need to be patient a little bit longer to get enough vaccine out there, that it's safe to start doing things again.
NNAMDIWell, did you tell Governor Hogan that? He wants to open up by March 1st. You had a personal conversation with him. He's threatening legal action.
ELRICHWell, I don't think he's going to do legal action. And, you know, I don't think there's legal action to do. He's upset with -- this is partly why, you know, Hopkins is working to get the vaccines out to the group of teachers that MCPS is going to bring back. You know, it'll help the teachers. I hope that everybody's right about the low transmission rates among kids. We do worry about, you know, particularly in communities where the virus is highly prevalent. You know, it is very different in different communities in Montgomery County. That is flat-out true.
NNAMDIWell, the Maryland Department of Transportation selected the design it would like to use for the I-495 and the I-270 Beltway expansion. The plan would add four managed lanes, two in each direction that would be toll-free for vehicles with three people. Cars with one or two people would pay a toll, depending on the traffic volume. MDOT says it should save the average commuter 73 hours of travel time each year. And so, Tom Sherwood, what is your question about that?
SHERWOODWell, I want to ask that, but I just -- I want to be clear, on The Politics Hour, have you announced yet for reelection? I assume you are, but have you done it yet?
ELRICHI haven't announced it, but you should assume I am.
SHERWOODYeah, I do assume that. Anyway, the governor -- this week, the governor that you're apparently such good friends with on issues, even though you disagree, dropped his plan, after a couple years of discussions and back-and-forths and all of that, he just threw it out there this week of what he wanted to do with these additional lanes. In that private conversation, did he tell you what he was doing?
ELRICHI had 15 minutes to talk about COVID and 15 minutes to talk about another project I'm working on, so I didn't have any time to talk...
SHERWOODWoo, what's that? What's that other project?
ELRICHOh, it's related to a development opportunity in Montgomery County that I want the state to assist with.
SHERWOODOkay. All right.
ELRICHAnd that was also a good conversation. But, you know, I got to say, on the lanes, this is the place where I think for two lanes, which is four lanes total, is two lanes too many. I've advocated for years -- and the council took this position some years ago -- that we would support two reversible lanes on I-270. Anybody who's driven that God-forsaken road at rush hour in the wrong direction knows that southbound in the morning is terrible. Northbound -- which I drive every day when I go into work -- is not bad. On the other hand, southbound in the evening isn't so bad, but northbound in the evening is a disaster.
ELRICHSo, I need two reversible lanes. No matter what you do, you have to take out the bridges and rebuild them, because the bridges have abutments that separate the service lanes from the main lanes, and then go down and then support the bridge in the middle of the road.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You're talking about American Legion? You're talking about American Legion.
ELRICHNo. I'm talking about all the bridges that cross over.
ELRICHSo, the abutments have to come out, anyway. So, if you're going to take out the abutments, you should be able to put in two reversible lanes. Virginia does this on 95. It works. And if I was somebody in the business community or the building community bidding on this, I'm going to look at this and say, I'm going to build four lanes. I'm going to get revenue southbound on the morning. Nobody's going to pay to ride a lane that doesn't -- that's no faster than what the regular lanes are. And in the evening, you're going to collect revenues on northbound lanes and probably nothing on the southbound lanes.
ELRICHSo, they really need to build what they need to solve the problem. Two reversible lanes allowing high-occupancy vehicles and transit buses would solve the problem. And, you know, I am...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) The governor -- excuse me -- excuse me, the governor...
ELRICH...yeah, I'm all in favor of doing that.
SHERWOODOkay. The governor says he'll start with the rebuilding the American Legion Bridge. What kind of timeline are we looking at? In terms if we start with American Legion Bridge and then do the 495 lanes and then the 270 lanes, are we looking at a 10-year project?
ELRICHI don't think it's 10 years. I think you can do these things -- you don't need to do it sequentially. There are different parts you can start moving at the same time. But I totally agree with the American Legion Bridge. I raised that, you know, the first meeting I was at in December, the year I got elected. I was in a big public forum, and the governor had spoken about what he was doing. And I said, if we were serious, we'd start at the American Legion Bridge, because you start at the bottleneck. Everything backs up from there. So, I'm thrilled that's where they're going to start.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Is there any indication -- is there any indication that this pandemic is going to change work life, that so many people will not be commuting, they may be working from home or more regional centers and there won't be as much commuter traffic? Is that part of the planning?
ELRICHUnfortunately, it's not part of the planning, the ward's planning, it's not part of anybody's planning. And a lot of it's -- you know, it's still highly speculative. I know, anecdotally, a bunch of businesses have told their landlords that they will either not be coming back, or they will be shrinking their footprints. And, you know, the stories abound in the Washington Business Journal pretty regularly about companies that have decided they're going to stay mostly virtual, and maybe satellite some people, which means, you know, put them in an office. But the offices might not be in downtown. They might be somewhere else in the DMV.
ELRICHI am not at all confident that -- but confident is probably the wrong word. I'm not at all a believer that everybody's going back to work. And I think there's a chance that the number of people commuting will shrink. And, obviously, there's no reason not to, even though it's antithetical to the interest of trying to build more buildings and getting more property tax base. If I was a tenant and I could have my people working from home rather than renting space in a building, I would have my people working at home.
ELRICHThe county, we tele-worked an enormous number of our people. When I came in, we had the best tele-working policy, probably, in the region. We had the worst application of the tele-working policy, because nobody could really tele-work. When COVID hit, we got extraordinarily high levels of tele-working. And we were kind of looking at this and thinking, we don't need to bring everybody back. If people want to come back, if they want some human contact, so we're thinking about split weeks where you share an office and somebody's on a couple days one week and three days the next week, and then reverse it.
ELRICHBut we're going to come up with a hybrid, and we're going to use less space. And I suspect other people are going to do the same thing. If you're a business person...
NNAMDII got a couple more COVID questions. Here is Katy in Kensington, Maryland. Katy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATYThank you. My name is Katy Preval. I'm president of the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington. And I'd like to ask our county executive to respectfully answer the question as why our 29 schools, who have been open and serve over 10,000 students and employ over 3,000 adults, were not included.
KATYThe Montgomery County Public School website says there is a partnership with Hopkins. And, Mr. Elrich, you are quoted as saying, "We are excited about this partnership." The governor has not made a distinction between public and independent schools in placing us in order of receiving the vaccine. So, we would ask why we were not given the same consideration to be part of this partnership.
ELRICHI'm sure the partnership and the schools could approach the hospitals about how the hospitals want to distribute their vaccines. We don't dictate that hospitals -- everything the hospitals do are hospital decisions. We got asked -- you know, we didn't get asked. The school system said they would provide a list of teachers who were coming back, which they did. And that list is available to the hospital, the one hospital we have a partnership with, and that's where it sits right now.
ELRICHIf other people want to establish partnerships, they can, but Montgomery County's vaccine -- and this is not my vaccine. This is the vaccine that was given by the state, to the hospital. Montgomery County vaccine's going to be pretty much relegated to finishing our 1A group and finishing the seniors from 75-plus. This is one of the problems of having a scheduling system that isn't where you cannot differentiate by age or, in this case, by profession.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, allow me to interrupt, Mr. County Executive, because what Katy is concerned about is whether or not the agreement that exists includes private schools. You keep saying MCPS, and that suggests that independent and private schools are not a part of this.
ELRICHIt's hard to call it an agreement, because it's not my vaccine. The school systems have said they wanted to get vaccinated. These are the people they're bringing back. This is what the hospital agreed to do. I don't know what the hospital would do if the association for the private schools went to them and said, these are our employees, will you vaccinate them? But I can't make anybody vaccinate anyone except for my own clinics. And we're only doing 75-year-olds and the 1A group right now.
SHERWOODWell, listen, very quickly, we don't have much time left. The redistricting has to occur. The voters of Montgomery County voted to expand the size of the Montgomery County council with additional, I think, two districts. Are you, as the leader of the county, going to be involved in the redistricting, or is that simply left to the council?
ELRICHIt's left to neither of us, fortunately. (laugh) It's ultimately...
ELRICH...there's a citizens group that gives recommendations.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I mean, it's a commission on redistricting.
SHERWOODSo, you're just going to accept what they recommend without any change by the council or yourself?
NNAMDI(overlapping) I should tell our listeners that the county council has selected 11 residents to be on its redistricting commission to redraw districts following the 2020 census.
ELRICHSo, I have no way...
SHERWOODAnd they have to report -- and they have to report by November 15th of this year. I understand that. But you're going to be involved. This is a political decision. It's not a good government citizen decision.
NNAMDIAnd you have less than a minute to respond.
ELRICHIt better be a good government citizen decision. I don't like gerrymandering. I do not want to see gerrymandering. I want to see the rules for equitable distribution of votes and respect for community lines, you know, continued here. I expect that to happen. I think the last time we did it, we did a pretty good job. I don't want to district some people in and some people out based on political stuff.
SHERWOODWell, we'll see. (laugh)
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Marc Elrich is the county executive in Montgomery County, Maryland. He's a Democrat. Marc Elrich, thank you so much for joining us.
ELRICHThank you. Hey, Kojo, I'm going to miss you. You know, you've been a real fixture and...
SHERWOODOh, here we go.
ELRICH...and so it's true, you know.
NNAMDIWell, Tom and I will still be corralling you on Fridays from time to time, because we're going to keep doing The Politics Hour.
NNAMDISo, yes. We'll be around.
SHERWOODHe's just going to be on vacation Monday to Thursday.
NNAMDIAnd that's all the time we have. The Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, we'll discuss the vaccine rollout in the DMV with Montgomery County's top health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles. A lot of people who called today will want to call again then. And we'll have the Washington Post's Julie Zauzmer. She will join us to discuss what's working and what's not.
NNAMDIThen Kojo for Kids kicks off Black History Month with Shani Mahiri King, the author of "Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter?" That all starts Monday, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and have a great weekend. Any plans, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODI'm going to go check out the March for Life in a few moments.
NNAMDIWell, I'm planning to stay safe. Thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.